Leaping into thefray as new hero Cole Young, actor Lewis Tan knows he’s joining a series with a rich legacy. The movie, which and US theaters Friday, sees Cole escaping Sub-Zero’s icy embrace, figuring out his heritage and running into plenty of klassic characters along the way. It’s already out in Australia, and will be available in the UK at a later date.
The game series has been going full steam since 1992, but this is the first Mortal Kombat movie adventure in nearly 24 years. Fans will be glad to know Tan is one of them, having first played the series in arcades back in the ’90s. Speaking to me over Zoom earlier this month, the actor recalls his younger self being astounded that you could uppercut a guy’s head off or punch someone onto a pit of spikes, and fondly recalls “torturing” his three younger brothers in Mortal Kombat Trilogy.
Tan previously brought his martial arts expertise to Marvel’s, and Netflix’s Wu Assassins, but Mortal Kombat is his biggest role yet. We got into deep SPOILER territory as we talked about his favorite character from the series, Cole’s heritage, the joy of finding his fatality and possibilities for future adventures.
Here’s an edited transcript of our Zoom conversation — I’d advise against reading further until you’ve seen the movie.
Choosing his destiny
Q: When playing the games, were you a Scorpion or Sub-Zero guy? I feel like most people gravitate towards one ninja or the other.
Tan: I played as Scorpion. But only in the first game — I started playing with other characters because too many people were playing with Scorpion and Sub-Zero. My favorite character to play with is [razor-hat wearing Shaolin monk] Kung Lao.
That’s kind of unfortunate, since he dies in the new movie. How did that make you feel?
Man, that was hard to watch. And I think Max Huang [who plays Kung Lao in the movie] was really incredible. But in the Mortal Kombat timeline, lots of different things happen — some characters come back, and they become evil. So hopefully, you know, the film is well received. And we get to explore all these new possibilities in a sequel or trilogy.
The Scorpion connection
In the movie, we learn that Cole is a descendant of Scorpion. How did it feel knowing your character had such an iconic heritage?
In my head, his ancestor was raised in China after being saved by Raiden [at the start of the movie]. So Cole has been raised around this Chinese culture, he has roots back in Japan and he’s from America — this mashup of cultures.
And that’s me, man. I’m Chinese, I’m English, but raised in America and also lived in China. When you grow up like that, you feel this need to be part of something and be part of a group. I think that’s what Cole is experiencing. When he finds out his heritage, that’s just the beginning of where we can go with this character. He just learned towards the end of the film, that’s almost his beginning — like a Cole prequel.
It’s pretty amazing that they tied that story together with the actual Mortal Kombat universe, with Scorpion being the most iconic character. I’m very proud to be part of that lineage, and hope I can do it justice.
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Talk to me about Cole’s powers and armor — they were very cool. Am I right in saying they’re quite different to anything we’ve seen in Mortal Kombat previously?
If you’re familiar with the game, Johnny Cage’s daughter Cassie unlocks this arcana (her inner power), and she defeats Shinnok (in Mortal Kombat X) . It was in her blood — she has this thing in her that she needed to unlock.
It’s very similar to Cole — there’s this power in him. So he’s competing in these bare-knuckle boxing matches and these MMA fights, but he hasn’t unlocked his full potential. Once it is, you see the powers and the powers are tied to his heritage.
In the beginning of the movie, his great grandma saves her and Scorpion’s daughter [Cole’s ancestor] by hiding her in the basket. The way the basket is woven together is actually the same type of design on Cole’s armor. In my mind, this suit is part of his thing that saved his lineage. The suit is actually not only protecting him physically, but metaphorically because it represents this protection over his bloodline.
And then Scorpion has this spear, a kunai. It’s related to his background in Japan. And Cole has a blade that’s a similar shape coming out of his arm and he can maneuver it like a tonfa — one side is plain, the other side has a blade. And I think that that is a cool kind of way to be an homage to [his ancestor] Scorpion’s skills and his abilities. I’m excited to see where this could go from here.
Fatalities and final showdowns
Cole pretty much shreds Goro after their battle. Was that his fatality?
That’s like a pre-fatality — I think that his fatalities could grow a lot from there. When he’s sliding around the body, he’s using everything — wing chun, judo, jiu-jitsu, wrestling and the tonfa weapons. So he can block, slice, trap the arms, pull and cut.
I think his fatality could be more along the lines of slicing people up into bits. Like, way more.
The final battle between Cole, Scorpion and Sub-Zero is epic. What can you tell me about it?
That’s one of the scenes I’m most proud of. There’s even stuff that didn’t make it into the film — so much fighting, so much intricate choreography.
That was the most difficult fight scene I’ve ever done because we were all wearing these incredible heavy costumes. I believe Joe Taslim [who plays Sub-Zero] said the same thing.
Mortal Kombat 11 added a bunch of characters as downloadable content, what are the chances of Cole coming to the game?
I don’t think that has happened yet. If the movie is well-received, I would love for that to be an option — that would be a very surreal thing, I think I’d faint. Since Cole is tied into the Mortal Kombat world, I think that is a possibility and I’d love to see it.
Maybe I’m thinking too small. What about the possibility of Cole becoming the star of the next game?
I love the idea of giving these iconic characters a lineage. I think part of what makes the games fun is that there’s always new characters popping up. And Scorpion hasn’t had too much of a family heritage and lineage characters — Sub-Zero has a brother, Jax has a daughter, Johnny Cage and Sonya have a kid. It would be cool to see more of that.